Excerpt from Ethics For The New Millennium by His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Howard C. Cutler, M.D., plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Ethics For The New Millennium

By His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Howard C. Cutler, M.D.

Ethics For The New Millennium
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  • Hardcover: Aug 1999,
    237 pages.
    Paperback: May 2001,
    237 pages.

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If this seems improbable, consider our differing response to kindness and to violence. Most of us find violence intimidating. Conversely, when we are shown kindness, we respond with greater trust. Similarly, consider the relationship between peace-which as we have seen is the fruit of love - and good health. According to my understanding, our constitution is more suited to peace and tranquility than to violence and aggression. We all know that stress and anxiety can lead to high blood pressure and other negative symptoms. In the Tibetan medical system, mental and emotional disturbances are considered to be a cause of many constitutional diseases, including cancer. Moreover, peace, tranquility, and others' care are essential to recovery from illness. We can also identify a basic longing for peace. Why? Because peace suggests life and growth whereas violence suggests only misery and death. This is why the idea of a Pure Land, or of Heaven, attracts us. If such a place were described in terms of unending warfare and strife, we would much rather remain in this world.

Notice, too, how we respond to the phenomenon of life itself. When spring follows winter, the days become longer, there is more sunshine, the grass grows afresh: automatically our spirits lift. On the other hand, at the approach of winter, the leaves begin to fall one by one, and much of the vegetation around us becomes as though dead. Small wonder if we tend to feel a bit downcast at that time of year. The indication here is surely that our nature prefers life over death, growth over decay, construction over destruction.

Consider also the behavior of children. In them we see what is natural to the human character before it has been overlaid with learned ideas. We find that very young babies do not really differentiate between one person and another. They attach much more importance to the smile of the people in front of them than to anything else. Even when they start to grow up, they are not very interested in differences of race, nationality, religion, or family background. When they meet with other children, they do not stop to discuss these things. They immediately begin the much more important business of play. Nor is this just sentimentalism. I see the reality whenever I visit one of the children's villages in Europe, where numbers of Tibetan refugee children have been educated since the early 1960s. These villages were founded to care for orphaned children from countries at war with one another. To no one's great surprise, it was found that despite their different backgrounds, when these children are put together, they live in complete harmony with one another.

Now it could be objected that while we may all share a capacity for loving-kindness, human nature is such that inevitably we tend to reserve it for those closest to us. We are biased toward our families and friends. Our feelings of concern for those outside the circle will depend very much on individual circumstances: those who feel threatened are not likely to have very much goodwill for those who threaten them. All this is true enough. Nor do I deny that whatever our capacity to feel concern for our fellow human beings, when our very survival is threatened, it may but rarely prevail over the instinct for self-preservation. Still, this does not mean that the capacity is no longer there, that the potential does not remain. Even soldiers after a battle will often help their enemies retrieve their dead and wounded.

In all of what I have said about our basic nature, I do not mean to suggest that I believe it has no negative aspects. Where there is consciousness, hatred, ignorance, and violence do indeed arise naturally. This is why, although our nature is basically disposed toward kindness and compassion, we are all capable of cruelty and hatred. It is why we have to struggle to better our conduct. It also explains how individuals raised in a strictly non-violent environment have turned into the most horrible butchers. In connection with this, I recall my visit some years ago to the Washington Memorial, which pays tribute to the martyrs and heroes of the Jewish Holocaust at the hands of the Nazis. What struck me most forcefully about the monument was its simultaneous cataloging of different forms of human behavior. On one side it lists the victims of acts of unspeakable atrocity. On the other, it remembers the heroic acts of kindness on the part of Christian families and others who willingly took terrible risks in order to harbor their Jewish brothers and sisters. I felt that this was entirely appropriate, and very necessary: to show the two sides of human potential.

Reprinted from Ethics For The New Millennium by His Holiness The Dalai Lama by permission of Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 1999 by His Holiness The Dalai Lama. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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